Internet 1996 vs 2011: What Does It Mean for Education?

There’s much to say about the changed nature of the Internet circa 1996 and that of Internet 2011, and this infographic from Online University captures several aspects. In this blog, I’ve talked about a few of these aspects quite a bit, such as accessglobal usage and its role in composing practices in the 21st century. What struck me in this infographic was in the bottom portion labeled: “Websites Then & Now,” which displays the differences in design and inherent logic apparent when setting websites from 1996 next to those from 2011.

Here’s a few thoughts, and below, the infographic that spawned them…

Reading the World Wide Web circa 1996 was much like reading pieces of paper—the 8×11 kind—on a screen. Not many people were writing the web, really only those with programming knowledge and server access. The GoDaddy.com site displays this well: In 1996, the site was basically it’s catalog on the screen.

In 2011, not only has the interactivity of the Internet changed (summarized last week in the Guest Post), but the logic of the screenshots has also changed.  Check out MapQuest.com 1996: The design uses the logic of the page and word—a linear top/down, left/right logic. Emphasis is communicated through color and effects to the words—font, bolding and italics. Of course, these elements are not purely linguistic, but are already multimodal. However, next to Mapquest.com 2011, we can see that not only have the modes changed, but the dominance of logic of the word and page (or piece of paper) has all but left us. We read in all directions not just top/down. Signifiers include image not just word—check out the list (going left to right) of icons at the top of the map. Emphasis and relationship is visually indicated by the placement of images not just color and word effects. (You can tell I am starting to geek out here, which if this is your thing, check out Bezermer and Kress’s work.)

What does this mean for education?

I remember using the 6 Traits approach to writing evaluation and instruction. Suddenly one year there was a change to 6+1 and the 1 was “formatting.” I felt at that time that “formatting” was fluff. Color, borders, font, and the such were decoration—not inherent to the meaning being communicated! That was Me circa 1999-ish. Me circa 2011 has evolved much like the Internet. Never has the five-paragraph essay been sufficient for preparing students for life outside of school, but like never before, designing is becoming tantamount to writing. (Disagree? I’d love to hear what I’m missing here!) I explored the necessity of understanding design for myself in an earlier post about my experience in the #teachread project.

So what do students need to know about design in the 21st Century? In an alternative college prep program I run called EXCEL Academy @ NYU, I teach an alternative Freshman Composition course, which includes instruction in the traditional essay form, but also instruction in composing for the 21st Century. Below are snapshots of some of the concepts we discuss, put into practice, and critique. What other design elements do you think should be on our list? 

organizational options for screen or page
a students’ ongoing list of elements discussed

* * *

One of the first things I noticed about this infographic was that it doesn’t look like most of the infographics I see out there (such as those posted on the Infographic Archive—check out this one on the benefits of napping!). Ironically, the makers of this one, Online University, used the visual design elements of Internet 1996 to create an infographic—a text type surging in popularity in Internet 2011. This clashing of timescale points out perfectly how the changes of the Internet have been far more than technological.



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